This is part twelve (the final part!) of my series on what psychiatric nurses do. You can read the other parts of the series here.
Teaching and mentoring students and newly qualified nurses was my favourite part of psychiatric nursing. I loved when we had students on the ward, especially first-years. Their bright-eyed, naive, blank-slate approach, and the opportunity ahead of them… It was exciting helping them through their journey.
Basically, all the staff on the ward are responsible for guiding and teaching students and new nurses. There’s so much they need to learn, and students will spend time with various members of the team, getting experience in all the aspects of running and working on a ward. But each student and preceptor (a newly qualified nurse on their initial introduction to the job) will be allocated a mentor and co-mentor who are responsible for overseeing their learning and ensuring they’re meeting all their learning objectives.
Becoming a mentor is a complicated business. I undertook the training as soon as I was able to. You have to enrol at university to complete the mentorship training, which is paid for by your employer. Then you attend university one day per week for a number of months, or some people do an intense course of a few days a week for just a few weeks. You attend lectures and have to do coursework, as well as working with a student, under supervision, at work. Once you’ve passed your course, you then have to co-mentor three students before you can be signed off as a mentor and have your own students. You have to complete top-up training every year, and maintain a portfolio of your work with students.
To be a mentor to preceptors is more complicated, and at the place where I worked only Band 6 nurses (most nurses are Band 5) could mentor preceptors.
Unfortunately, despite passing my training I only had the opportunity to co-mentor one student, as soon after I left university I went on maternity leave. But I had the pleasure of working closely with lots of students and preceptors throughout my short career. I would let them shadow me, teach them about writing care plans and doing assessments, observe them giving injections and taking physical measurements, and talk to them about their experiences and issues they were having. It was very rewarding and interesting.
Not all nurses are so interested in students and preceptors. I had some awful experiences as a student myself, with disinterested staff who couldn’t care less about teaching students and were sometimes downright hostile! And I guess that’s one of the reasons I was always so keen to be there for students when I was a nurse myself. But overall, all nurses are professionally obliged to assist students and preceptors with their learning and most do.
Mentors basically work closely with their allocated students, working with them directly ideally a couple of times a week, matching shifts. Each student will have different learning objectives based on where they are in their training. First years generally need to focus on basic things like interpersonal skills, taking physical measurements, and general learning about healthcare, whereas third years need to focus on the more advanced aspects of nursing like shift leading, assessment and staff management. The mentor will closely monitor what the student is learning, meet with them regularly to identify learning opportunities, and assess their progress throughout the placement. The mentor is also responsible for noticing and addressing any issues with the student, such as areas they’re struggling, problems with attendance, etc. Sometimes it may be necessary to inform the university if the student is not meeting their obligations, and mentors can refuse to give the student a pass for the placement if serious issues arise. Mentors are basically teachers and assessors, working in tune with the university, for the duration of the student’s time with them. It’s a lot of responsibility.
The final part of the job of a psychiatric nurse I just want to touch on is supervision. All nurses, as part of their professional development, are supposed to access supervision. Supervision is basically a form of informal counselling with a more experienced nurse who you get along with. Soon after commencing employment you have to approach a nurse you’re comfortable with and ask them to provide supervision. It shouldn’t be a nurse who works in the same place you do. It could be a nearby ward nurse or community nurse or lower manager. The supervisor/supervisee relationship is confidential and you’re supposed to meet at least once per year. Supervision is basically intended to discuss any issues that have arisen for you at work or even in your personal life, and get support. The supervisor might listen to problems you’re having, suggest things you could do or places you could access services to assist you, or help you work through issues you’re having. Supervision is protected time which you’re allowed to take whenever you need it, fully paid.
In practice, in my experience, supervision wasn’t accessed nearly as often as necessary. I myself rarely accessed it. There just wasn’t time, and trying to match schedules with someone on a another ward was a logistical nightmare! However you are professionally obliged to have supervision, as it’s part of professional development criteria.
So that’s it. Twelve sections of description of what exactly psychiatric nurses do. Told you it was a diverse job! It’s a hard, stressful job with little reward and high-risks. Those that do it need a medal! Kudos to all my ex-colleagues. I couldn’t do it anymore, but they’re still there, day after day, putting their heart and energy into helping others. I take my hat off to you. X